The Maracaña. Wembley. Azteca. Olympiastadion. The Rose Bowl. Iconic names that echo with some of the greatest moments in history from the world’s biggest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup. Will the 2022 Qatar World Cup forever carve another name or two into the collective minds of the world’s football fans? That distinction is mostly up to the what occurs on the pitch, but the designs of the stadiums themselves can often prove to be memorable. Ranking World Cup 2022 stadiums isn’t an easy task, but we’ve rated them from best to worst.
This year’s World Cup will be the most compact ever in terms of geography, with the two furthest venues being only about 34 miles apart. That’s about the distance between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, or like having the entirety of the World Cup staged between Liverpool and Manchester. Seven of the eight stadiums are located in a cluster in and around Qatar’s main city of Doha, and all but one venue has been purpose built specifically for the World Cup (the other, Khalifa International Stadium, was substantially renovated for the tournament).
Addressing human rights concerns
When it comes to this World Cup, and specifically the stadiums, you simply cannot ignore the elephant in the room which is the human rights issues regarding the conditions for the workers that have built these stadiums. We must not forget the struggle of those who have labored under incredibly difficult conditions to conjure an entire modern sporting infrastructure out of thin air in the span of a few short years.
Several of these venues, in fact, will be downsized or completely dismantled once the tournament is over, as Qatar has no long-term need for eight 40,000+ seat stadiums. We hope that, once all the confetti is swept up, and all the sponsors, politicians, wealthy elites and those supporters fortunate enough to be able to travel to the tournament head home, that the surplus modular infrastructure does find its way to other places it is needed (as the organizers have promised), and that those who toiled to make this World Cup possible find themselves in much better circumstances.
Now, with that being said, let’s take a look at the eight venues set to stage all the drama this fall, and see which one we think is the best of the bunch.
#8 – Khalifa International Stadium
The Khalifa International Stadium is the only venue in this World Cup that existed prior to the awarding of the tournament. Its 2017 renovation brought it up to snuff to host matches for soccer’s premier event, and ranking it last in our list is not to say it’s a terrible venue. It’s just not terribly interesting of a building. The design of the roof and supports, along with the spiral ramps, are a bit reminiscent of Manchester’s Etihad Stadium, or Sydney’s Olympic Stadium. The stadium will host the 3rd place match along with six group stage games and one Round of 16 match.
#7 – Al Bayt Stadium
The most far-flung venue of the tournament, only about 13 miles or so from the outskirts of Doha, the Al Bayt Stadium is designed with inspiration from the tents of the nomadic peoples of the region, and features a retractable roof to provide shade for both spectators and the players on the field in the desert heat. Beyond simple aesthetics, the exterior and roof really is like a tent, made from a woven fiberglass membrane. The boxy appearance and roof looks a bit like the old air-supported domes that once dotted the United States, such as the 1994 World Cup venue the Pontiac Silverdome.
The stadium will be scaled down to around 32,000 seats at the conclusion of the World Cup, where it will be the home venue of local club side Al Khor FC. It is set to host 6 group games (including the opening Qatar-Ecuador match and England-USA), and 3 knockout matches including a semifinal.
#6 – Ahmad bin Ali Stadium
The Ahmad bin Ali Stadium replaced an older stadium (built in 2003 and demolished in 2015). The exterior design is like a more delicate version of Beijing’s famous “Birds Nest” Olympic Stadium, with a network of woven metalwork encompassing the stadium. Behind the “nest” is an impressive light display after the sun goes down. After hosting 6 group matches and one Round of 16 game, the stadium will be downsized to 21,000 seats and host Al-Rayyan SC.
#5 – Al Janoub Stadium
Certainly the sleekest design of the bunch, the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah takes its inspiration from traditional dhow boats, used by pearl divers of the region (it reminds me a bit of an aerodynamic cycling helmet, or the spaceship from the 1980s sci-fi film Flight of the Navigator). The venue has a retractable roof and will be utilizing the cooling system we’ve heard much about over the past decade, aimed at taming the scorching heat of the desert. The seats feature a wave design, tying into Al-Wakrah SC who will call the venue home after the World Cup is over and seating is reduced to about 20,000. Six group games and one Round of 16 match will take place at the stadium.
#4 – Stadium 974
The first purely temporary venue in World Cup history, Stadium 974 is probably the most talked about venue of the tournament up to this point. The name comes from the 974 shipping containers used in its construction (as well as the international dialing code for Qatar, +974). The containers make for a striking outer appearance, but the interior certainly has the look of a pop-up, lower quality venue. Of course, that won’t matter when it’s packed with fans and the games are going on.
It should be commended that instead of wasting resources on another large permanent, ornate venue that the country has no real need for, the building will be disassembled and sent off to be utilized in under-developed parts of the world. Perhaps a lasting investment or renovation to a historic venue in another potential host nation would’ve been a better outcome of the host bid process way back in 2010, but the intentional recycling of Stadium 974 is a silver lining and forward-thinking innovation of this tournament for sure. Stadium 974 will host 6 group matches and one Round of 16 game.
#3 – Education City Stadium
Education City Stadium opened in early 2020, and is one of the venues that have already hosted big soccer events – namely the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup, 2020 AFC Champions League, and 2021 FIFA Arab Cup. The exterior is reminiscent of Munich’s Alianz Arena, with its monolithic white appearance, as if a giant futuristic egg is about to hatch. The interior features a white and green seating pattern, and the overall look inside definitely reminds you of one of Europe’s modern club venues. Six group games, one Round of 16 game and a quarterfinal will take place at Education City.
#2 – Lusail Iconic Stadium
Lusail Stadium will host ten games in this year’s World Cup, including the Final. At 80,000 seats, it’s the largest stadium in all of Qatar. Its general shape reminds one a bit of the 2010’s Cape Town Stadium in South Africa. The exterior is covered with a repeating pattern of gold-colored triangles, with the theme continuing on the seats inside, in white and gold. The other stadiums are all certainly modern venues, but this one definitely has the sense of grandeur to it fitting to host the world’s biggest soccer match. After the tournament, capacity will be reduced to 40,000 seats, with parts of the building repurposed into shops, cafes, and other facilities.
#1 – Al-Thumama Stadium
The Lusail Iconic Stadium is the centerpiece of the event, and the site of the Final certainly is impressive, but the Al-Thumama Stadium is downright gorgeous. The overall design is inspired by the traditional taqiyah cap worn by many men and boys all over the Middle East. The intricate, woven white exterior is beautiful during the day, but it’s a true stunner when lit up at night. The stadium will host eight total matches during the World Cup, including a Round of 16 game and a quarterfinal, and afterwards will be downsized to around 20,000 seats, with the removed seats being donated to other countries.
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